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Archive for October 17th, 2011

Ever the Individualist: Todd Rundgren Goes Esoteric

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By the time 1993 rolled around, devotees of the musical wizardry of Todd Rundgren only knew to expect the unexpected.  Warner Bros. Records had rescued 1985’s A Cappella after the album had been rejected by Rundgren’s longtime home, Bearsville.    The maverick artist followed that with two efforts recorded expressly for the label, Nearly Human (1989) and 2nd Wind (1991).  These two albums showed the artist as a supreme pop craftsman with would-be classics like “The Want of a Nail” and “Parallel Lines” on the former, and “Change Myself” on the latter.  (“Parallel Lines,” like a handful of other songs on these albums, came from a 1989 stab at musical theatre, Up Against It.  Based on an unproduced Joe Orton screenplay intended for The Beatles, Rundgren’s musical was produced at Joe Papp’s Public Theater.  Writing for the New York Times, Mel Gussow called “Parallel Lines” the show’s “one good song.”)  After the Warner Bros. contract drew to a close, though, Rundgren entered another highly experimental period, and one that might have been his most cutting-edge yet.

Todd Rundgren’s rich catalogue has been revisited lately by not one, but two, major U.K. labels.  The Edsel Records/Bearsville campaign, launched just last week, will soon continue with four more volumes, according to the booklets from the first wave: Back to the Bars (EDSD 2125), Hermit of Mink Hollow/Healing/The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (EDSD 2126), Todd Rundgren’s Utopia/Another Live (EDSD 2127) and Adventures in Utopia/Deface the Music/Swing to the Right (EDSD 2129).  (Watch this space for the release date of that quartet once it’s revealed!)  Meanwhile, the Cherry Red affiliate Esoteric Recordings recently reissued three titles from the Utopia catalogue.  Redux 92: Live in Japan (ECLEC 22238) and Oblivion (ECLEC 22237) both added DVD content to the original albums, while POV (ECLEC 2255) appended previously-issued bonus tracks.

Esoteric’s next three Rundgren reissues span the period between 1993 and 2000 and find the ever popular tortured artist exploring his most radical avenues yet.  The first of the titles to be reissued by Esoteric, 1993’s No World Order, introduced “TR-i,” or “Todd Rundgren Interactive.”  The album was designed for Philips’ short-lived CD-i format, and here’s where the interactivity came in: listeners could control a number of elements of the music’s sequence, drawing on mixes prepared by Rundgren, Hal Willner, Bob Clearmountain and Jerry Harrison.  Your experience with No World Order could be altered by features like Program, Direction, Form, Tempo, Mood, Mix and Video; the music itself was roughly 990 four-bar musical segments, with each one a portion of a song and playable in multiple versions from instrumental to a cappella.  For those not equipped with CD-i, Rundgren offered his preferred mix of No World Order as a standard CD, which forms the core of Esoteric’s reissue.  A year later, he released No World Order Lite, an “accessible” version of the album with a more conventional song structure.  A Japanese-only release, NWO 1.01, included more distinct mixes.  Esoteric brings all three of these albums together, plus two tracks from a Japanese single and two more from a U.S. promotional single.  This 2-CD set, the centerpiece of Esoteric’s program, represents the most complete No World Order yet.

What’s next from Esoteric?  Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 17, 2011 at 14:17

Review: Ben Folds, “The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective”

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Opening the four-panel digipak that houses Ben Folds’ The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective (Epic/Legacy 88697 92683-2), listeners are treated to an unsettling and hilarious sight: the bespectacled, slightly quizzical face of the singer/songwriter, superimposed onto bodies he clearly has no place being attached to. Those off-kilter images are exactly the kind of strange silliness fans have come to expect from Folds over a career that stretches more than 15 years, starting with the excellent power-pop trio Ben Folds Five and continuing through a lengthy solo career that’s long eluded commercial fortune but has made Folds thisclose to a household name.

Quite frankly, the notion of a “greatest hits package” might not make sense to the average music observer. Folds’ chart success begins and ends with “Brick,” Ben Folds Five’s unlikely multi-format Top 40 ballad about a high school couple getting an abortion – hardly the stuff that pop careers are made of. What Folds and compilation producers Timothy J. Smith and Darren Salmieri did instead was craft a rather thorough overview of Ben’s discography that will provide more than enough for the first-time fan and satiate even the most ravenous of superfan. That’s not bad for a guy with so few chart entries – and it’s really the kind of approach everyone wants for their favorite artists.

In fact, go ahead and laugh all you want, but Best Imitation may be this author’s candidate for the catalogue set of the year.

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Written by Mike Duquette

October 17, 2011 at 12:41

Everybody Cut Loose! Ghostlight Revisits and Remasters 1998 “Footloose”

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Well, everybody didn’t quite cut loose this weekend.  Despite Paramount Pictures’ lavish promotional campaign for the film, its remake of 1984’s Footloose couldn’t topple Hugh Jackman’s Rocky-meets-TheTransformers epic Real Steel for the top spot at the box office.  Still, the lukewarm reception accorded Craig Brewer’s picture likely won’t diminish the reputation or popularity of Herbert Ross’ original.  A more successful adaptation of Footloose arrived at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre on October 22, 1998, where it remained ensconced for 709 performances until its July 2, 2000 closing.  The production was recorded by Q Records, a short-lived music division of the QVC television network, and remained available until 2003 when Q dissolved.  Over the past years, the album has become collectible, and as of this writing, is selling for $46.52 and up for a new copy at, and $14.75 and up for a used one.  Many high school and community theatre actors have been holding out for a hero each year to step up and make this recording available again.  Luckily, they don’t need to hold out any further.  Ghostlight Records is making the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Footloose available once again, albeit with some dramatic changes.

When Footloose arrived on Broadway, The New York Times’ Ben Brantley (still the paper’s chief theatre critic today) described it as a “flavorless marshmallow of a musical,” slightly tempering his words for Walter Bobbie’s production by adding that “there have certainly been worse musicals on Broadway than Footloose.”

The $6.5 million adaptation was bankrolled by the esteemed Dodger Theatricals, who would later strike gold with the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, or Jersey Boys.  Jeremy Kushnier took over from Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormack, who moves from the big city to a small town where a ban on dancing has been instigated by the local preacher (Stephen Lee Anderson, in John Lithgow’s role).  The Reverend Shaw Moore, however, has had better luck bringing control to the town at large than to his own home.  When Moore’s daughter Ariel, portrayed on Broadway by Jennifer Laura Thompson, takes an interest in Ren, the stakes escalate.  Both film and stage musical reveal the story of a wayward father coping with the loss of his son and a wayward youth coping with the absence of his own father.

The chart-topping original soundtrack to Footloose has sold over 15 million copies to date, and in adapting his screenplay for the Broadway stage, Dean Pitchford wisely retained the film’s core songs: the title tune, written by Pitchford and Kenny Loggins; “Holding Out For A Hero,” by Pitchford and Jim Steinman (Bat Out of Hell); “Let’s Hear It For The Boy,” by Pitchford and Tom Snow; “Almost Paradise” by Pitchford and Eric Carmen, and more.  Realizing the dramatic necessities of an expanded script, however, Pitchford reunited with Snow to provide new songs which would hopefully both illuminate character and advance the plot.  Brantley opined that “the many new songs Mr. Snow has composed range from the vaguely pleasant (a Sondheimesque duet about ‘learning to be silent’ sung by Ms. [Dee] Hoty [as the Reverend’s wife Vi] and Catherine Cox as Ren’s mother) to the unbearable (a long soul-searching soliloquy performed by the mild-mannered Mr. Anderson).”

Despite the critical reservations, the production garnered four Tony Award nominations including Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical, and the Original Broadway Cast Recording received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Musical Show Album.  Several U.S. national tours followed Broadway, and Footloose even made its way to London’s West End.  It’s been most successful, though, as a licensed show for high schools and community theatres.  Rodgers and Hammerstein Theatricals has confirmed that the musical is consistently in its Top 10 out of more than 100 offerings, while Dramatics Magazine has listed Footloose in its top 5 list of the most-produced high school musicals in America.  The youth appeal of the story and its jukebox of familiar pop hits has rarely been in question.

What’s new on Ghostlight’s release?  Don’t stand still!  Just hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 17, 2011 at 09:50